Sir John Tusa spoke out after the corporation was forced issue a statement making it clear comments by presenter Emily Maitlis did not meet its standards of impartiality. Sir John, a founding presenter of the flasgship news programme, said he would never have waded into the row which erupted when the Prime Minister backed Mr Cummings over his trip to Co Durham at the height of the coronavirus lockdown.
Ms Maitlis opened the programme with a monologue which fell foul of the broadcaster’s own standards.
She told viewers: “Dominic Cummings broke the rules, the country can see that and it’s shocked the government cannot.
“The longer ministers and the Prime Minister tell us he worked within the rules, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.”
She then said Mr Cummings “was the man, remember, who always got the public mood, he tagged the lazy label of ‘elite’ on those who disagreed”.
But Sir John, 84, who joined the programme in 1980, was unimpressed by the Ms Maitlis’s remarks.
He told the Sunday Times: “No editor of Newsnight that I worked with would have allowed that to go through.
“No presenter would have written anything like that. It is self-indulgence and it does no service to viewers.
“You can either choose to be a celebrity or you can choose to be a journalist. You can’t be both.
“You can reflect the state of opinion in the nation perfectly well without larding it with your own personal feeling.”
READ MORE: Emily Maitlis and BBC’s infighting revealed
Tuesday night’s broadcast came after Mr Cummings gave a controversial press conference from the rose garden of Dowing Street to explain his movements during lockdown.
The following day the broadcaster issued a statement it said: “Newsnight risked giving the perception that the BBC was taking sides — or that the introduction constituted the presenter’s opinions, rather than a summary of the journalism which would follow.”
It said staff had been “reminded of the guidelines” around impartiality, adding that the corporation must “uphold the highest standards of due impartiality in its news output”.
The programme “should have done more to make clear the introduction was a summary of the questions we would examine, with all the accompanying evidence, in the rest of the programme.
The statement said: “As it was, we believe the introduction we broadcast did not meet our standards of due impartiality.”